results. Research. Innovation. Impact.
UNLOCKING THE MIND
In this issue Unlocking the Mind 9 Health on the Go 14 Energizing Public-Private Partnerships 26
results. Research. Innovation. Impact.
WANT TO KNOW MORE? CONTACT US The Office of Research, Innovation and Economic Development email@example.com 919.513.1312 Alan Rebar
THE FUTURE OF MEDICINE
Researchers in medicine have long known there is no bright line dividing people from animals. The diseases and disorders that plague human beings — including many emerging and infectious diseases — also afflict the animals we domesticate. NC State has been at the forefront of translational research for more than a decade, building an interdisciplinary community of scientists pursuing the discovery and delivery of new therapies for human and animal patients. Among the most promising fields are regenerative medicine, functional tissue engineering, translational genetics and genomics, and translational pharmacology and physiology. In this issue of Results, you’ll visit the lab of regenerative medicine researcher Ke Cheng to learn about his work with natural and synthetic stem cells to treat diseases of the heart and lungs. You’ll also discover our groundbreaking work to understand human behaviors affecting some of society’s most marginalized communities, including victims and perpetrators of violence. And you’ll meet researchers working in the innovative field of wearable, self-powered health monitoring devices. As always, be sure to visit us online at research.ncsu.edu. Alan Rebar Vice Chancellor Research, Innovation and Economic Development Publisher, Results
Chancellor Randy Woodson Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Warwick Arden College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Richard Linton, Dean College of Design Mark Hoversten, Dean College of Education Mary Ann Danowitz, Dean College of Engineering Louis Martin-Vega, Dean Graduate School Peter Harries, Interim Dean
Design: Liaison Design Group 2 |
College of Humanities and Social Sciences Jeff Braden, Dean College of Natural Resources Mary Watzin, Dean Poole College of Management Annette Ranft, Dean College of Sciences Christine McGahan, Dean College of Textiles David Hinks, Dean College of Veterinary Medicine D. Paul Lunn, Dean
TABLE OF CONTENTS
VF INKS STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIP WITH NC STATE
In early 2018, NC State formed a collaborative, strategic partnership with VF Corporation, a global leader in branded lifestyle, apparel, footwear and accessories. The partnership will support student development at NC State and advance apparel and textiles innovation within VF. A few of VF Corporation’s 30-plus brands include The North Face, Vans, Nautica and Timberland. “VF is proud to partner with NC State, one of the world’s top universities and home to the only college in the United States devoted entirely to textiles,” says Steve Rendle, VF’s chairman, president and CEO. “Through our shared expertise in research and consumer insights, we aim to stimulate apparel innovation while also developing a consistent pipeline of exceptional leaders for our company.”
UNLOCKING THE MIND
HEALTH ON THE GO
The College of Textiles and VF have a longstanding relationship. Under this new multiyear agreement, the partnership is further strengthened by NC State’s Poole College of Management, which brings expertise in business analytics and supply chain management. The new partnership adds structure to existing collaborations and creates new opportunities for students in both colleges.
The corporation will establish a presence on Centennial Campus, NC State’s nationally recognized research campus, where VF will join more than 75 corporate, government and nonprofit partners. The partnership will give students access to a variety of undergraduate and graduate education and training opportunities, including internships, student projects and competitions. In addition, it will facilitate industry-leading research that will elevate apparel and textile products and experiences. VF also plans to take advantage of executive education opportunities at NC State. “VF’s presence on Centennial Campus will create a collaboration space where students, faculty and VF employees can come together to solve challenges and accelerate innovation,” says Dennis Kekas, associate vice chancellor of partnerships and economic development at NC State. The announcement begins a long-term engagement between VF and NC State, with more initiatives to be announced, he adds. n
ENERGIZING PUBLICPRIVATE PARTNERSHIPS
In the Lab 6 Emerging Researchers 20 Envisioning Research 24 Innovative Outcomes 31 Extraordinary Research 37 Outstanding Faculty 39 Mixed Media 40 Saving Princeville
Research. Innovation. Impact | 3
IN THE LAB
HARNESSING THE HEALING POWER OF STEM CELLS In his laboratory on the second floor of the new Biomedical Partnership Center on NC State’s Centennial Campus, Ke Cheng peers into a microscope, examining a dish of stem cells that may hold the key to repairing damaged cardiac tissue. The view is dramatic, not because the cells are doing anything unusual but because Cheng’s work gives us a glimpse of the future of medicine.
Stem cells (magenta with green nuclei) encapsulated in a nanogel (yellow) that keeps the cells in place and protects them from the body’s immune response. Credit: MolGraphics.com
Since arriving at NC State in 2013 to join an interdisciplinary faculty cluster focused on regenerative medicine, Cheng has conducted groundbreaking research on the use of stem cells to treat cardiac and pulmonary diseases. He led a team that developed a synthetic version of a cardiac stem cell that may reduce the risks associated with using natural stem cells. He has also spearheaded research to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of treatment with adult stem cells. One project focused on solving two problems associated with cell therapy: how to keep cardiac stem cells in place and how to prevent rejection when the stem cells are not from the patient’s own body. The solution involved encapsulating cardiac stem cells in a polymer gel that shields them when they’re injected into the patient’s body. In another project, he demonstrated a simple, rapid way to generate large numbers of lung stem cells for use in treatment. Instead of attempting to isolate and sort individual lung stem cells or genetically convert other types of cells into lung stem cells, Cheng used a multicellular spheroid method to enrich and grow them.
“Our strengths are in veterinary medicine, engineering and the collaborations we have throughout the Research Triangle area,” says Cheng, associate director of the Comparative Medicine Institute, with appointments in the Department of Molecular Biomedical Sciences at NC State’s College of Veterinary Medicine and in the Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering, jointly administered by NC State and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “We are individually strong but jointly stronger.”
A HEART FOR RESEARCH Kevin Huang, a second-year Ph.D. student in comparative biomedical sciences, is working on a cardiac stem cell project in Cheng’s lab. Both of Huang’s grandfathers died of heart disease in 2010, triggering his decision to pursue a career in medicine. Huang has thrived in the graduate program, embracing the immersive — and challenging — educational experience. “In China, a teacher teaches and students learn and take a test. Here we are instructed by mentors,” he says. “Here, we learn by reading, searching, writing, making presentations and watching other
students’ presentations. We get ideas from all over, and we brainstorm.” Another student in Cheng’s lab, fourth-year Ph.D. student Uyen Dinh, is studying stem cell therapies for lung diseases. She says being on the leading edge of the field is both exciting and challenging. “The lung group is quite new for the lab, so a lot of the things we’ve been doing are novel, and there are not many people I can ask for help,” she says. “But it’s great because it means that whatever I’m doing is going to be the first, and it’s going to have a big impact.” Impact is at the forefront of Cheng’s mind as looks out his office window at the rows of buildings housing the veterinary teaching hospital, where colleagues are conducting research in areas that often advance both animal and human medicine, from cancer and spinal-cord injuries to prosthetics and pain management. “There are two things that put us on top: innovation and teamwork,” he says. “Together we are doing something extraordinary.” n
Ke Cheng, center, in his regenerative medicine lab with students.
“There are two things that put us on top: innovation and teamwork.” Ke Cheng
Research. Innovation. Impact | 5
EMERGING RESEARCHERS Tyler Allen Seth Theuerkauf Matt Campbell and Steve Hall Samim Mirhosseini and Chris Parnin
RISING STAR FOR CANCER RESEARCH Tyler Allen always had a hungry mind, the kind of kid overflowing with questions and craving immediate answers. He didn’t always get them. “Most of the time I was saying, ‘Why? But why?’ — probably to an annoying degree — to the adults around me,” says Allen. “A lot of the time my mom would explain things to me, but other times she would flip it on me and say, ‘Why do you think it happens? What can you do to find out why?’” That life lesson stuck. Allen, who is set to earn his Ph.D. in comparative biomedical sciences from NC State’s College of Veterinary Medicine this spring, has spent the last four years thinking about some of the most pressing and complex questions about cancer — and answering them.
That’s why he was named to Forbes magazine’s “30 Under 30” list, which highlights visionaries in a variety of fields. At 25, Allen is one of the youngest included in the science category. Forbes singled him out for his research on how certain cancer and tumor cells exit the bloodstream to form new tumors — the “cancer exodus” hypothesis. Allen joined professor Ke Cheng’s regenerative medicine lab in 2014 (see In the Lab, p. 4). “There was something so appealing to me about the biomedical research being done at the vet school,” he says. “There’s still a lot that we don’t know about diseases, especially cancer. And here we get to help with that.” Allen has been involved with a number of significant developments in medical research during his graduate school career. He has worked on a research team that has shown how to quickly
“It was just something I wanted to help answer: What’s going on here, and what can we do about this?” Tyler Allen
generate large amounts of lung stem cells to use in treatment and has developed a synthetic version of stem cells for the heart. He is also the lead author on a recent study that discovered that therapeutic stem cells leave the bloodstream differently than was previously thought, a process the research team termed angiopellosis. It’s a groundbreaking finding that could pave the way for more effective stem cell therapies and early detection of cancer’s spread. The research, which is part of Allen’s doctoral dissertation, earned him a predoctoral fellowship from the National Cancer Institute. Allen’s insights into the ways cancer cells behave and therapeutic stem cells move are giving researchers powerful weapons in the fight against cancer. “The thing that interested me about cancer was that the cells are not inherently evil,” Allen says. “Cells are meant to grow and divide, so they’re doing their job extremely well — so well that it’s causing a tumor. To me, that is fascinating. It was just something I wanted to help answer: What’s going on here, and what can we do about this?”
INVASIVE MARSH GRASS NOT A THREAT TO WETLANDS A fast-spreading species of marsh grass doesn’t threaten protected North American wetlands as once feared, according to research spearheaded by an NC State student. That’s good news for communities that have spent millions of dollars combating the invasive plant in recent years. Seth Theuerkauf, a Ph.D. candidate in marine, earth and atmospheric sciences, led a research project that examined two protected areas in the North Carolina Coastal Reserve system. They focused on the impact of a common reed, Phragmites australis, that thrives throughout North American wetlands, spreading up to 15 feet a year. Past research on the invasive species has demonstrated mixed results. Some studies have found that its densely packed growth pattern chokes out native marsh plants, thereby reducing plant diversity and habitat used by some threatened and endangered birds. But other studies have shown that Phragmites may help reduce shoreline erosion in marshlands and store carbon at faster rates than native grasses. Theuerkauf’s team decided to compare ecosystem services — plant diversity, shoreline stabilization and carbon storage — between marshes with varying amounts of Phragmites: those with only native grasses, those with a mix of grasses and those with only Phragmites.
“Our findings highlight the importance of maintaining protected reserves.” Seth Theuerkauf
From left, Katelyn Theuerkauf, Samantha Godwin and Brandon Puckett deploy stakes to monitor marsh erosion at Currituck Banks Reserve.
Phragmites’ effect was largely neutral. However, Theuerkauf points out that the neutral effect could be due to the protected status of the wetlands they studied and the specific ecosystem services evaluated. “Studies that associate Phragmites with negative impacts on wetlands are often conducted in areas that have seen significant human interventions, such as shoreline development or construction of drainage canals, whereas our study was conducted in undisturbed marsh habitat within a protected reserve system,” says Theuerkauf, a National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellow. “Our findings highlight the importance of maintaining protected reserves, as they may provide a strong defense against the negative impacts of invasive species and could reduce the time and money spent on trying to eradicate these species,” adds Theuerkauf. “Additionally, our results suggest that Phragmites management efforts should also take ecosystem services into account.” The work was funded in part by North Carolina Sea Grant and the North Carolina Coastal Reserve.
The findings were encouraging. The team found no significant differences between the marshes they studied, indicating that
Research. Innovation. Impact | 7
Oysters remove particulate matter from water, making it easier for sea grasses to grow.
OYSTER REEFS HELP CREATE ‘LIVING SHORELINES’
AUTO-FIX TOOL GETS MORE PROGRAMMERS TO UPGRADE CODE
Waves, tides, storms and hurricanes can all take a toll on the coastline, eroding the land and redrawing the shoreline. Those changes can put infrastructure and communities at risk. But researchers are rolling out new guidelines to help create more effective “living shorelines” that protect against erosion while improving environmental quality.
Failure to make necessary upgrades to software code can have dire consequences, such as the recent major data breach at Equifax. Now a study has found that auto-fix tools are effective ways to get programmers to make the relevant upgrades — if programmers opt to use them.
“Our goal was to lay out parameters that people need to consider when creating oyster reefs to limit coastal erosion,” says Matt Campbell, a Ph.D. student at NC State and co-author of a chapter included in the forthcoming book Living Shorelines: The Science and Management of Nature-Based Coastal Protection. The book consists of peer-reviewed chapters that offer the latest researchbased information about creating and maintaining living shorelines. “Traditional shoreline protection measures — such as seawalls and breakwaters — often protect one section of the shore but can exacerbate erosion elsewhere or disrupt existing ecosystems,” says Campbell. “That’s why the field of ‘living shorelines’ — using living things to grow environmentally beneficial erosion-control systems — is becoming more and more popular. In many cases, these projects consist of an oyster reef backed by marshland.” “The need to protect coastal regions is becoming increasingly important,” says Steve Hall, an associate professor of biological engineering at NC State and lead author of the chapter on oyster reefs. “Populations and infrastructure are moving closer to the coast, even as coastal areas are facing more severe storms and other environmental challenges. “Our chapter addresses fundamental and practical issues ranging from how to design oyster reefs to account for local conditions to where to place the reefs to what materials to use when constructing them,” he says.
NC State undergraduate Samim Mirhosseini is lead author of a paper on the study that was presented at the IEEE/ACM International Conference on Automated Software Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign last fall. Mirhosseini’s work on the project was supported by a Research Experience for Undergraduates grant from the National Science Foundation. “Most software programs rely, in part, on code in external ‘libraries’ to perform some of their functions,” says Chris Parnin, an assistant professor of computer science at NC State and senior author of the paper. “If those external libraries are modified to address flaws, programmers need to update their internal code to account for the changes. This is called ‘upgrading an out-of-date dependency.’ However, for various reasons, many programmers procrastinate, putting off the needed upgrades. “This is what happened at Equifax,” Parnin says. “An external library they relied on had made public that it contained a security flaw. And while the external library was patched, Equifax never got around to updating its internal code. So months after the problem was identified, Equifax was still vulnerable and got hacked. “Our goal with this project was to assess tools designed to get more programmers to upgrade their out-of-date dependencies. Could they help prevent another Equifax?” The researchers examined thousands of open-source projects on GitHub, an online programming community that fosters collaboration on open-source software projects. Specifically, the researchers looked at different methods projects used to incentivize or facilitate upgrades and whether those incentives made any difference. The researchers found that projects with automated pull requests made 60 percent more of the necessary upgrades than projects that didn’t use incentives. n
UNLOCKING THE MIND By Suzanne Wardle
Hidden inside the mind are the answers to some of societyâ€™s most vexing problems, from violence and depression to terrorism. Meet the researchers who may hold the key.
Research. Innovation. Impact | 9
UNLOCKING THE MIND
Forensic psychologist Sarah Desmarais studies murky topics that are difficult to dissect, such as violence against sexual minorities, drug use among parolees and terrorism. Her goal is to understand the most complicated subject of all — human behavior — and disseminate her findings to make communities safer and healthier, whether by helping large government agencies craft policy or assisting mental health professionals as they deal with individual cases. “I came to research wanting it to make a difference,” Desmarais says. “I really think that science can make the world better. That is the most important thing I do.”
POINT OF INTERVENTION Although Desmarais’ wide variety of research topics might seem to have little in common, they all fall under the umbrellas of public safety and public health. She focuses her research on psychology and the criminal justice system, studying behavior and characteristics of both perpetrators and victims and then translating the resultant data into recommendations. Mental health forms a key part of Desmarais’ research — specifically its intersection with the criminal justice system. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, nearly 15 percent of men and 30 percent of women booked into jails have a serious mental health condition. “I’m really interested in jails as a point of intervention, because this is where we have the highest volume of individuals coming through any part of the criminal justice system in the United States,” Desmarais says. Jails include people convicted of minor crimes as well as people awaiting trial; prisons usually confine people serving sentences for felonies.
“I try to get information into the hands of people who can use it to improve outcomes.” Sarah Desmarais
“We have more people who pass through jails every year than pass through prison or probation or any other setting,” she notes. Desmarais’ early work in a jail setting planted the seeds of her research ideas. As a graduate student at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, Canada, she did jail intake assessments to identify individuals who had mental health or substance abuse problems or who were at risk of harming themselves or others. “I started thinking about how I would look at the bigger system and policies that are in place that are bringing these people to those experiences — the criminal justice system and my office in the jail,” she says. “How might I be able to effect change on a bigger scale to hopefully interrupt that cycle?” Her work has influenced agencies and institutions around the country. She has studied suicide, violence and high-risk behavior among veterans for the Department of Veterans Affairs, violence and victimization among adults with mental illness for the National Institute of Mental Health and military workplace violence for the Department of Defense. Last year Desmarais’ research appeared in publications including the International Journal of Social Psychiatry, Criminal Justice and Behavior and Archives of Women’s Mental Health. Media outlets including the Washington Post and North Carolina Public Radio have sought her expert opinion as a forensic psychologist. The front page of one of her articles even appeared briefly on an episode of Last Week Tonight With John Oliver that dealt with mental health. In November she went to Indiana to talk to legislators about risk assessment and youth. Closer to home, Desmarais spent a year examining the prevalence of mental health problems in the Wake County Detention Center. The center is implementing some of her recommendations, such as establishing protocols for intake staff to follow when an inmate screens positive on the jail’s brief
mental health evaluation. Center staff are also exploring options for diverting detainees with mental health problems to a crisis unit or other community treatment setting. Desmarais says over the past decade she’s seen an increase in legislation that takes into account findings by forensic psychologists and other social scientists. She also works with professionals outside the criminal justice setting, such as clinicians and case managers working with people with mental illnesses. “It’s been a really amazing experience when I get to train people on the front line and give them better tools or even maybe just more confidence in doing very difficult and challenging jobs that many of us wouldn’t be able to do on a daily basis,” Desmarais says. “To have people thank me for helping them feel like they can do their work better — those might be some of the most satisfying and professionally rewarding experiences. “I try to get information into the hands of people who can use it to improve outcomes. That’s my favorite part of the job.” Her work with the criminal justice system led her to study an important 21st-century problem: terrorism.
OPERATING IN THE SHADOWS Desmarais didn’t initially set out to study terrorism, but it turns out that the topic provides a natural segue for someone studying violence and criminal behavior. “Many of us who have done work in violence risk assessment started to be asked questions about how that may translate to looking at the risk of terrorism,” she says. “It’s been interesting to think about. I view terrorism as a specific type of violence, and there have been some questions and discussion in the field about whether that means there are unique risk factors associated with it. Or is there overlap?” One factor under review is education. There is a link between low levels of education and risk of violence or criminal behavior, Desmarais says. When it comes to terrorism, there might be higher levels of education but less “vocational success,” she says. Terrorism presents challenges in finding subjects to study, too. Individuals in the criminal justice system have already been identified through arrest, hospitalization or other means. Terrorists, whether acting as individuals or in groups, operate in the shadows. “With terrorism, we’re not sure how to cast that net and what information to start with because we don’t have a lot of potential terrorists documented through official ways,” Desmarais says. She and others are conducting research on terrorism through NC State’s Laboratory for Analytic Sciences, or LAS, which was founded in 2013 in collaboration with the National Security Agency. Desmarais’ terrorism research group includes Chad Hoggan, an assistant professor of educational leadership, policy and human development, and teaching assistant psychology professor Joseph Simons-Rudolph. Hoggan’s research focuses on transformative learning, which refers to experiences that affect how people see themselves and the world around them. He had just begun creating a typology, or
“I tend to ask, ‘What conditions might promote this type of change, and how can we spot them?’” Chad Hoggan
classification system, of transformative learning outcomes when he became involved with LAS several years ago. “We’ve used my typology to try to understand how different forms of radicalization might emerge from different potential terrorist groups,” Hoggan says. “The typology has been useful for me as an analytic tool to understand how different individuals or groups of people make sense of the world and how they change.” Hoggan’s background in the field of education informs his approach to the research, which differs from that of his psychologist colleagues. “They tend to focus on things such as, ‘How can we measure this in some quantifiable way?’ and ‘What are the individual characteristics that would lend themselves to this?’ Whereas I tend to ask, ‘What conditions might promote this type of change, and how can we spot them?’” In other words, what makes someone turn to terrorism — and what can society do about it? The team’s analysis of existing information on risk factors associated with someone joining a terrorist group or committing an act of terrorism appeared last year in the Journal of Threat Assessment and Management. They found 205 articles on the subject, but only a handful offered useful data and statistical analysis.
Research. Innovation. Impact | 11
UNLOCKING THE MIND
“Basically, over the past quarter-century, there have been six research articles that are useful in identifying someone who is likely to engage in terrorism, and the quality of those six studies is variable,” Desmarais says. “There may be classified research I’m not aware of, but this highlights the need for more research in this area.” Simons-Rudolph, the psychology professor, says the next step is to evaluate current risk assessment tools and protocols used to identify terrorists. He wants to establish a stronger empirical foundation for risk assessment when it comes to terrorism and radicalization so intelligence agents will have more effective tools to use in their investigations. “This field is in its infancy, and it is very exciting to be a part of the process,” he says. As well as publishing research in journals and presenting to fellow academics, the researchers are collaborating with LAS on ways to translate their findings into practical applications. They also speak at conferences focused on homeland security at the agency and practitioner levels, sharing their findings and learning what different agencies are doing to fight extremism. As with her work through LAS, Desmarais uses multiple channels to spread what she knows about terrorism, such as writing white papers and executive summaries for intelligence agencies, and participating in panels to discuss her findings with more diverse audiences.
ASSESSING RISK One tool Desmarais and other forensic psychologists use in their research and practice is structured risk assessments, which help identify individuals more likely to offend and then outline strategies to minimize the odds. Desmarais has developed her own assessments. “If I’m known for something, that’s what it is,” she says. She co-wrote the Short-Term Assessment of Risk and Treatability, a clinical guide used in both public and private institutions and practices around the world to help health care and criminal justice professionals handle adults with mental, personality and substance-related disorders. Desmarais emphasizes the value of interviews when assessing the risk of violence. “One of the things we learn a lot about in psychology is how to ask questions,” she says. Questions should be brief and to the point, she notes, because sometimes the people answering them have trouble focusing due to mental illnesses or other factors. Establishing trust is also important. “It’s really about building rapport with the people you’re interviewing and being really sensitive to the story and the information they’re telling you,” Desmarais says. One important variable is whether
interviewees answer truthfully. Desmarais says there is little incentive to lie to researchers, especially those with certificates of confidentiality that prevent disclosure of information, even under subpoena. Researchers can also confirm subjects’ stories through official documents, such as court records, and by talking to family members. They also check responses for the presence of social desirability bias — the possibility that people are telling you what they think you want to hear. Psychologists also learn to identify malingering, or feigning mental health problems, Desmarais says. She remembers talking to a jail inmate who wanted to transfer to the psychiatric hospital simply because smoking was allowed there. “His ultimate way to try to convince me was to say, ‘Call my mom, she’ll tell you I’m crazy.’ I had that internal dialogue with myself where I thought, ‘If you can tell me to call your mom, you’re probably not crazy.’”
RESEARCH IN ACTION Desmarais’ research opens the door to practical solutions. A study she conducted last year found that many veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder are also more likely to experience “post-traumatic growth,” such as a greater appreciation of life, increased inner strength and awareness of new possibilities. The study measured each veteran’s growth on a scale of zero to 105 and gauged the extent of the growth and how long it took. “One of the key points here is that there can be real benefit from having military veterans think about their traumatic experiences,” Desmarais says of her findings, which appeared in the journal Military Psychology. “While it may be painful in the short term, it can contribute to their well-being in the long term.” Another study last year looked at a completely different topic: postpartum mood disorders. About 20 percent of new mothers who experience PPMDs, such as depression
“It’s not just teaching people how to be therapists. It’s incredibly diverse as a discipline.” Sarah Desmarais
and anxiety, did not mention them to health care providers, even though national guidelines tell health care professionals to ask about them. The study, published in Maternal and Child Health Journal, found that women who were unemployed, had a history of mental health problems or were experiencing severe symptoms were more likely to report barriers to treatment. This finding shows that women need care and attention after childbirth as well as before. “We don’t just need to teach women how to develop a birth plan; we need to teach them how to develop a social support plan,” Desmarais says. In addition to her research, Desmarais is coordinator of the Applied Social and Community Psychology Program in the Department of Psychology. She also teaches, training new
generations of psychologists. The Forensic Psychology in the Public Interest lab offers students a glimpse into the work she does. Classes are opportunities for Desmarais to explain what psychology is — and what it is not. “It’s not just teaching people how to be therapists,” Desmarais says. “It’s incredibly diverse as a discipline.” This is especially true of her field of forensic psychology. “It’s not the same thing as forensic science or forensic anthropology or disciplines that are within the forensic science sphere that are focused on criminal investigation and evidence,” Desmarais explains. “It’s not criminal profiling. It’s not CSI, it’s not Criminal Minds; it’s this other thing where we look at human behavior as it intersects with the criminal justice system more broadly.” n
Information Network: How LAS Mines Data to Help Communities The Laboratory for Analytic Sciences at NC State takes the concept of partnership to a new level. The lab — a partnership with the National Security Agency — brings together some of the brightest minds from government, academia and industry to address challenging big-data problems involved in issues of national security. In the process, LAS has created partnerships that otherwise may never have existed. “There’s a recognition that different sectors have different incentives and different goals, but there’s some power in working together,” says Alyson Wilson, principal investigator for LAS. “There are issues we’re all interested in. We bring different things to the table.” Through a highly competitive selection process, NSA awarded NC State a $60 million grant to lead LAS, due in large part to the university’s national leadership and expertise in data analysis. The geographic proximity of the Research Triangle and NC State’s strong connections to national industry leaders, local businesses and other leading research universities, including Duke University and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, solidified NC State as the ideal host for LAS. The nontraditional laboratory’s focus is translational research— analyzing data and converting it into information that can be used to solve security problems in communities and even countries. LAS comprises two parts: the intelligence community, represented by about 50 federal government workers (primarily from the National Security Agency) on Centennial Campus, and the academic and industry side, which Wilson manages. LAS partners with 30 faculty members from nine universities. Industry collaborators include well-known names such as the Mayo Clinic. The lab conducts about 40 projects in any given year, but the research constantly shifts as intelligence priorities, faculty involvement and government staffing change. The work is all connected to defense, security and intelligence, yet it covers a broad array of issues, such as privacy, cybersecurity and even human trafficking.
LAS does not dictate problems for faculty members to solve; instead, the lab tries to match faculty with research topics that fit their passions and research. “We very much try to align what we’re doing with the kind of work our faculty do,” Wilson says. The research has applications beyond the intelligence community. This year, Wilson says, social scientists and quantitative statisticians are trying to improve the usefulness of the failing-state index — a gauge indicating when a country starts falling apart. For intelligence agencies, a failing state raises red flags about potential violence and radicalization, but failing states affect businesses, too. For instance, a company may rethink its presence in a country with black markets, a foundering economy and a trend toward instability. “Everybody says the same thing, which is ‘How do I use this data to get strategic advantage?’” Wilson says. LAS offers benefits for everyone involved. Industry partners developing security- or intelligence-related products can work with the lab to test prototypes before releasing them commercially. Faculty partners gain new testing grounds for their ideas and urgent problems to tackle. Intelligence agencies have access to academics’ specialized expertise and their networks of students and colleagues. Wilson says she doesn’t expect LAS to solve security problems all by itself. Instead, the organization is more properly regarded as a tool to help make communities safer. “We can create some partnerships that push the ball forward in some very specific ways,” she says. Research. Innovation. Impact | 13
HEALTH ON THE GO NC State researchers are integrating health monitoring into daily life through nano-enabled, self-powered, wearable technology that tracks data in real time.
By Brent Winter A year or two ago, wristband fitness trackers like the FitBit seemed to be all the rage. That wave has likely crested, but in its wake a host of much more sophisticated wearable devices is emerging to monitor biometric variables ranging from blood pressure and oxygenation to blood glucose and medication levels. Some of the most advanced research in wearable health technology is being done at NC State under the auspices of the Advanced Self-Powered Systems of Integrated Sensors and Technologies (ASSIST) center, a National Science Foundation-sponsored Nanosystems Engineering Research Center. ASSIST aims to provide wearable, selfpowered health monitoring devices that will enable health care professionals to make faster, more accurate diagnoses, which will improve health and cut costs by reducing unnecessary testing and hospitalization. The center is also researching technology that will allow ordinary users to more easily and accurately monitor their health.
TWO VISIONS FOR HEALTH Electrical engineer Alper Bozkurt is one of the leaders of ASSIST’s testbed efforts. “ASSIST has two visions,” Bozkurt says. “One is developing wearable health tech that’s powered by the human body. The other is expanding the scope of wearable health devices beyond tracking health to also assess environmental exposure.” The ASSIST testbed team has already developed a wearable system that addresses both of those challenges. The Health and Exposure Tracker (HET) consists of two core elements: a patch that adheres to the chest
and contains sensors tracking the wearer’s personal health indicators, such as heart rate, respiration and blood oxygenation; and a wristband that contains both health sensors and environmental sensors. The HET system is unique in its focus on collecting data about the user’s environment. This innovation came about as a result of input from ASSIST’s advisory boards. “ASSIST has two advisory boards — one for science, medicine and the military, and one for industry,” Bozkurt explains. “Through our conversations with them, we confirmed that exposure tracking is one of the gaps in wearable health technology.” To fill that gap, researchers have designed different configurations of the HET system to address specific health needs. Generation 1 of the HET is customized to focus on predicting and preventing asthma attacks, so the wristband’s environmental sensors measure ozone, volatile organic compounds, ambient temperature and humidity. This version of the system also incorporates a hand-held, self-powered spirometer, which asthma patients breathe into several times a day to measure lung function. “Right now, people with asthma are asked to use low-cost, hand-held peak flow meters to measure lung function,” says biomedical engineer James Dieffenderfer, who helped develop the HET when he was a Ph.D. student of Bozkurt’s and who is continuing to participate in the team’s
research after graduation. “Doctors use lung function to inform the dosage of prescription drugs in the patient’s inhaler. But peak flow meters aren’t very accurate compared to a spirometer, which is what you would use in a medical setting.” To surmount that obstacle, Dieffenderfer worked with a team of NC State biomedical engineers to develop a hand-held spirometer with a rechargeable battery that gets a boost every time the user blows into the device. Measurements from these sensors are transmitted wirelessly to a computer, where custom software collects and records the data. The team is currently testing the HET to identify which environmental and physiological variables are useful in predicting asthma attacks. “Once we have that data, the center can develop software that will track user data automatically and give users advance warning of asthma attacks,” says Bozkurt. Alper Bozkurt
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HEALTH ON THE GO
“That software will allow users to sync the HET to their smartphones so that they can monitor their health on the go.”
TACKLING DIABETES The research team is now working on generation 2 of the HET system, which will adapt it for diabetes management. Diabetics need to constantly manage their level of blood glucose, and right now the only way to do that is to draw blood and test it. The team is building a wearable sensor that will measure the wearer’s levels of glucose and lactate (another metric of interest in diabetes) through their sweat. Research is already underway on HET generation 3, which will monitor a wearer’s level of blood-pressure medication to improve medication adherence. The system will use microneedles to painlessly extract the wearer’s blood and perform an electrochemical analysis on it to determine whether he or she is taking the proper amounts of medication. One of the biggest challenges in wearable health technology is maintaining a sensor’s
contact with the human body during normal daily activities. A typical electrode, for instance, is made of rigid metal, which is difficult to affix to the skin. How do you design an electrode that will withstand the stresses of everyday life and conform to the irregular contours of the human body while also consistently delivering accurate measurements?
electromagnetic field through the skin to measure how much the skin impeded the field. The skin’s impedance is governed by its level of hydration, so if you know the level of impedance you can infer the level of hydration. That’s how Zhu and his team developed a lightweight, low-cost, wearable skin hydration sensor.
This problem piqued the interest of ASSIST faculty member Yong Zhu, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at NC State. He experimented with a variety of materials that were flexible, stretchable and conductible, such as carbon nanotubes; but he eventually decided that silver nanowire showed the most promise for a wearable electrode.
When Zhu began collaborating with John Muth, a professor of electrical and computer engineering, together they realized they could use silver nanowire to create a densely patterned electrode thin enough to be embedded in a sheet of stretchable, flexible polymer that could adhere to almost any part of the body. Next they saw that if you made the electrode two-pronged and seated it on the skin, you could pass an
“This device is intended for use in applications that need to detect dehydration before it poses a health problem,” Zhu says. The sensor’s applicability is obvious: Hydration is an important issue for a wide variety of people, such as firefighters, athletes and soldiers in the field. This fact was reinforced after Zhu’s team published a paper detailing their findings; they received emails from firefighters who had somehow heard about the paper and wanted to know more. Zhu’s team has developed two prototypes of the device, one with the hydration sensor located on the wrist and the other on the chest. In both versions, the sensors wirelessly transmit their data to a program
Yong Zhu (left)
“We’re working on making manufacturing more uniform with higher throughput instead of manually creating each one.” Yong Zhu 16 |
that can run on a laptop, tablet or smartphone for monitoring by the user or by a designated third party. In lab testing using artificial skins with a wide range of hydration levels, the researchers found that ambient humidity did not affect the sensor’s performance. What’s more, the sensor was just as accurate as a large, expensive, commercially available hydration monitor that operates on similar principles but utilizes rigid wand-like probes. “Many individuals and organizations have expressed interest in using this technology,” Zhu says, such as medical researchers who are considering using the sensors to conduct their own studies. In addition, cosmetics companies are interested in using the device to measure the effectiveness of skin moisturizers. The team is now working on ways to make the electronic component of the system more user-friendly. They’re also trying to find ways to manufacture the device on a commercially feasible scale. “Right now we’re printing these sensors off in my lab,” Zhu says, “so we’re working on making manufacturing more uniform with higher throughput instead of manually creating each one.” Last year the team received an NSF grant specifically intended to support the development of scalable nanomanufacturing. In addition to faculty researchers at NC State and other partner universities, ASSIST includes industry members working in the wearable health tech field. Raleigh-based Valencell, a maker of wearable heart-rate sensors, is an affiliate member of ASSIST. The company has deep roots at NC State; two of Valencell’s three co-founders — electrical engineers Steven LeBoeuf and Michael Aumer — earned their Ph.D.s there. The company jumped into the wearable health tech sector so early that the market for the product they wanted to build didn’t properly exist yet. “When Valencell was founded in 2006, ‘wearables’ didn’t exist as a market or even as a word in the health tech industry,” says Ryan Kraudel, vice president of marketing for Valencell. “That was way before FitBit or Apple Watch or even smartphones, which didn’t launch until the following year.”
“Being an ASSIST member has been a real benefit to us. ... The biggest value for us is having access to the latest developments in the lab from an R&D standpoint.” Ryan Kraudel
DATA FROM DAILY LIFE Nevertheless, the company’s founders wanted to expand upon existing healthsensor technology by creating sensors that could collect biometric data from people engaged in their normal daily lives, as opposed to lying perfectly still in a hospital bed. Their goal was to help people live healthier, longer lives by understanding how their body responds to whatever activity they’re participating in. Valencell’s leaders decided the best way to do that was to embed a sensor in an item the user was already wearing, such as an earbud, a watch or a piece of clothing. The company’s technology uses a lightbased sensor called a photoplethysmogram (PPG), which works on the same basic principle as the clip that a nurse affixes to your fingertip or earlobe to measure your heart rate in a hospital or doctor’s office. A PPG works by shining light into the body and using optical receptors to measure how much of that light is reflected based on blood flow in the illuminated tissues. That reflection generates data that can be turned into a waveform, and that waveform can be analyzed to extract heart-related biometric variables. At the time of Valencell’s founding, PPGbased sensor systems were designed solely to be used in medical settings, and there was little impetus to make them wearable for everyday use. Thus, the company had to invent an entirely new layer of technology. “The challenge with a wearable PPG has to do with making that technology motion tolerant, because it’s extremely sensitive to motion,” Kraudel explains. “Light scatters when you shine it into the body; when you move, it scatters more. That makes it hard to get accurate data. In the hospital, if you move at all with that clip on your finger, you’ll throw off the reading. You’ve got to fix that if you want your sensor to be wearable.”
Valencell’s innovation consists of a combination of hardware, software, firmware and algorithms combined in a wearable PPG sensor that removes measurement artifacts created by motion and ambient light, resulting in a waveform that contains accurate data on the user’s heart rate. First the company developed the intellectual property necessary to make their vision a reality. Once Valencell joined ASSIST, the center helped them secure crucial support in the form of federal grants from the Small Business Innovation Research program. Research and development was eventually followed by market penetration. Now Valencell’s sensors can be found in products made by companies including Bose, Sony and LG. They’ve solved the motion problem so well that their earbud sensors can now measure heart rate as accurately as an electrocardiograph chest strap.
ACCESS TO LATEST R&D “Being an ASSIST member has been a real benefit to us, as a small company trying to bring new products to a rapidly evolving market that’s changing almost every day,” Kraudel says. “The biggest value for us is having access to the latest developments in the lab from an R&D standpoint. For instance, we get requests to embed our sensor tech into smart clothing. Well, we’re not experts in smart clothing, because we’re an ingredient technology company; we’re trying to sell our tech into products that other people are building. So when someone asks us about putting our tech into smart clothing, we can go to ASSIST to find out what the latest developments in that sector are. That helps both us and the potential customer know what’s possible and what isn’t.” Looking ahead, Valencell wants to continually improve accuracy of measurement for all its products. And, as with all other electronic
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HEALTH ON THE GO
Jur says textiles and electronics don’t fit together as easily one might expect them to. “People like to talk about ‘e-textiles’ like it’s some natural fit, but it’s not,” he says. “The characteristics of the textile can have a great impact on the electronics. I prefer to call them ‘textile electronics,’ because it highlights the crucial role that the textile plays and reminds us that we’re talking about clothes people will wear.” Textile electronics possess certain advantages over other wearable health technologies, such as a smart watch or a fitness tracker, Jur says. For one thing, a garment is much more customizable to an individual wearer’s body than a wristband is. This customization facilitates the collection of higher-quality health data.
This infant onesie tracks electrocardiograph readings for children with congenital heart disease.
and IT products, they’re working on smaller form factors and longer battery life. But their sharpest focus is on extracting more metrics out of the PPG waveform generated by their sensors. “Until now the measurements haven’t been accurate enough to get advanced metrics worth tracking,” Kraudel explains. “But now we can go beyond heart rate to accurately measure heart rate variability, which is a measure of stress on the heart, whether psychological or physiological; VO2 max, which measures aerobic capacity; and even blood pressure.” The ability to obtain advanced metrics creates the potential for Valencell to expand beyond the consumer market and into wearables for the medical device industry. “If everyone’s wearing a device that can identify atrial fibrillation or other cardiac arrhythmia events as they occur, that could have a remarkable overall public health impact,” Kraudel says. One way to create that kind of impact is to make your device as easy to use as possible. For instance, what if the clothes you already wear not only covered your body but also kept track of how it’s functioning — and all you had to do was put them on? Developing such garments is the goal of ASSIST faculty member Jesse Jur, associate professor in the Department of Textile Engineering, Chemistry and Science at NC State. Jur and his Nano-Extended Textiles (NEXT) Research Group work with ASSIST
to create cost-effective, energy-efficient wearable health technology that’s powered by the user’s own body and integrated into items of clothing. When Jur first joined the College of Textiles, he started modifying textiles to add some level of electronic function via manufacturing processes commonly used in the semiconductor industry. “The problem with those processes is that they’re not easily scalable from a textile manufacturing perspective,” Jur notes. “I’ve seen T-shirt factories in Honduras that manufacture one and a half million T-shirts per month. If you want to make a difference in this industry, you have to adapt yourself to that level of manufacturing. So to add electronics to garments, you have to ask yourself: How can I integrate my technology so it doesn’t slow down that process?” Jur says there’s wearable health tech on the market right now that does a great job, but the retail price remains unfeasibly high because the manufacturers haven’t solved the scalability problem. “Today you can get a shirt that will track muscle activity during a workout, and it’s really cool, but it costs about four hundred bucks,” Jur notes. “At that price, not many people are going to use it. But you can’t make it affordable until you pull textile experts in to address scalability. If you solve the scalability problem, you solve the cost, which makes it affordable and makes widespread adoption possible.”
“A garment also provides a much larger surface area in contact with the body,” Jur says, “so you can place sensors where they need to be to get better data.” In addition, a garment’s surface area facilitates the harvesting of energy directly from the user’s body to power the electronics, which reduces the overall burden of the device to the consumer. “If you want to encourage people to use your device, you don’t want them to have to keep plugging it in,” Jur says. “You want it to be as easy to use as putting on a shirt in the morning.” Energy harvesting provides a great example of how the properties of a textile will influence the electronic device you put in it, Jur points out. There are two main ways to harvest energy from the body: through motion, via piezoelectric materials that generate energy when they stretch; and through thermal energy harvesting, which uses thermoelectric energy generators to generate power based on the temperature difference between the body and the atmosphere around it. “The challenge with thermal energy harvesting is that the temperature difference between the body and the atmosphere is not very high, so we have to maximize it as much as possible so we can harvest the power at a usable level,” Jur says. “This is one place where the textile industry really comes into its own. It’s been evolving for thousands of years to make people as comfortable as possible in our environment, which is usually determined by temperature. So we’ve been using that expertise to design textiles that
can maximize the temperature difference and make thermoelectric energy harvesting feasible.”
get good, reliable data. Whole-garment knitting allows you to go from human to product with a single customized design.”
Together with ASSIST, the NEXT group is using both thermoelectric and piezoelectric energy harvesting in an experimental textile electronics garment that measures the heart’s electrocardiograph reading and tracks the wearer’s motion. To integrate the electronics into the garment, they’re using screen printing, which their research has shown to be a commercially scalable production method. They’re creating the garment itself by using a new technology from the textile industry called wholegarment knitting.
Jur’s team has demonstrated the new garment’s capabilities in the lab and is currently assembling all the components into a wearable shirt that it will analyze in a clinical setting later this spring.
“It’s the 3-D printing of garments,” Jur says. “You use a CAD system to print out a wholly assembled garment without a seam. If you were to combine that with 3-D optical scanning, you could take a profile of a person and design a shirt customized to fit them. That’s a key challenge for reliable textile electronics: making sure the electronics fit to the person’s body so you
“We’ve also adapted this technology into use as an infant ECG garment, for infants with congenital heart disease,” Jur says. “The way you usually monitor an ECG for a person of any age is through a Holter monitor, which consists of a bulky box with leads that come off it and go all over the body. You take it home, put it on, wear it for a while and then take it back to the doctor so they can retrieve the data and analyze it. That’s difficult and unwieldy for anyone, but especially for an infant. So we came up with a way to integrate all the electronics into a onesie, and we’ve done some trials with doctors at UNC-Chapel Hill. They’ve actually placed them on infants to observe the impact on the infant, ease
of use and how well the sensors work. We’ve gotten some very good results.” Jur’s research has done more than create new wearable health products. “We’re also training a new type of workforce,” he says. “We’re creating a new type of employee that I call a fusion designer: someone who understands textiles, electronics and human factors, and who takes all three into consideration in their work.” Jur trains his Ph.D. students to be fusion designers, and he employs fusion designers on his research staff. The concept of a fusion designer resonates well with the textile industry, Jur says. “They know most people aren’t coming out of school with that kind of interdisciplinary expertise, but if they can train people to be that way — or if they can hire them from here, where they’re already fusion designers — then that can have a big impact on the company, and on the industry.” n
Jesse Jur (second from right)
“If you solve the scalability problem, you solve the cost, which makes it affordable and makes widespread adoption possible.” Jesse Jur
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Envisioning Research is an annual photo and video competition for research faculty, staff, graduate students and postdocs to celebrate the beautiful images that come from research at NC State. For more information and to see the full winner galleries, visit envisioning.research.ncsu.edu
FIRST PLACE MICROSCOPY FACULTY + STAFF
Rich Spontak Distinguished Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering The Fingerprint of Molecules This unedited polarized light microscope image shows the crystal formation of a special type of polyhedral oligomeric silsesquioxane (POSS) solvent-casted with chloroform. POSS molecules lock with each other just like LEGO pieces, allowing them to form a continuous surface that can be used as a protective coating on polymers against X-rays and UV light.
FIRST PLACE MICROSCOPY GRADUATE STUDENTS + POSTDOCS
Eric Land Ph.D. Student in the Department of Plant and Microbial Biology Arabidopsis Trichome This scanning electron micrograph captures the impressive three-dimensional ultrastructure of an Arabidopsis “leaf hair” that looks like a tree growing in a meadow. Trichomes like this one are single-cell appendages growing out of the leaf surface.
FIRST PLACE VIDEO GRADUATE STUDENTS + POSTDOCS
Tyler Allen Ph.D. Student in NC State’s Comparative Biomedical Sciences Program This video displays the beating heart of an embryonic zebrafish. The video was captured in real time with the heart (red) pumping red blood cells (blue) through its chamber. This zebrafish was genetically modified so that both its heart and its red blood cells would fluoresce with distinct colors, allowing for the unique visualization of this process.
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FIRST PLACE PHOTOGRAPHY FACULTY + STAFF
Matt Bertone Extension Associate in the Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology Insects and their relatives (called arthropods) are a common â€” and sometimes abundant â€” component of the indoor biome. Carpet beetles (Coleoptera: Dermestidae) were found to inhabit 100 percent of the homes sampled in a recent survey of North Carolina homes. This photograph shows an adult beetle that finished development and is resting in its former larval skin.
FIRST PLACE PHOTOGRAPHY GRADUATE STUDENTS + POSTDOCS
Andy Wade Ph.D. Student in the Department of Marine, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences Graduate students from NC State, the University of Oklahoma and Colorado State University collect data on a line of passing storms in southeastern Minnesota. The Plains Elevated Convection at Night experiment sent researchers from numerous universities and laboratories across the central U.S. in search of nocturnal thunderstorms.
FIRST PLACE GRAPHICS + ILLUSTRATION GRADUATE STUDENTS + POSTDOCS
Michael Fisher Ph.D. Student in the Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology This illustration depicts an Operational Taxonomic Unit (OTU) network that shows the diversity of bacteria among bed bug populations around North Carolina. Each colored dot in the center represents a different sample location around the state. The sand-colored dots on the periphery correspond to an individual OTU of bacteria connected by the blue lines, elucidating the relationships. This project examined the gut microbiome of the common bed bug Cimex lectularius from 15 populations around North Carolina.
FIRST PLACE GRAPHICS + ILLUSTRATION FACULTY + STAFF
Paul Byrne Assistant Professor in the Department of Marine, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences The planet Mars has fascinated humanity for thousands of years. Recent spacecraft missions have returned an unprecedented view of the red planet. Here, topographic data for the entire planet show the vast, low-lying plains to the north, enormous impact basins in the southern hemisphere and, to the west, the largest volcanoes in the solar system â€” the tallest of which, Olympus Mons, towers 21 kilometers above its surroundings!
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The Namibia Wildlife Aerial Observatory Project could transform African tourism.
USING NEW TECHNOLOGIES TO PRESERVE WILDLIFE AND WILD SPACES
LOCUS BIOSCIENCES LANDS $19 MILLION FOR GENE EDITING WORK
In just a few decades, if current trends continue, the world’s majestic rhino, elephant, giraffe and other species of large African wildlife will be extinct. African parks dedicated to wildlife conservation lack the resources to protect these animals from criminal syndicates that profit from poaching.
Locus Biosciences, an NC State spinoff company pioneering the development of gene-editing technologies to fight superbugs, has raised $19 million in Series A funding from major investors. The round was led by ARTIS Ventures of San Francisco, with additional financing from institutional investors Tencent Holdings Ltd., Abstract Ventures of San Francisco and others.
To address this problem, Larry Silverberg, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at NC State, co-founded the Namibia Wildlife Aerial Observatory Project. The project is capitalizing on emerging aerial technologies that may not only protect these animals from extinction but could also transform African tourism. “Our goal is to bring wildlife imagery from Africa to the world, instead of focusing solely on bringing tourists from other parts of the world to Africa,” he explains. “The contract arrangements that could bring African wildlife to a huge customer base make good business sense, as is the case with televised sports. Someday these arrangements could provide African parks and their surrounding communities with the funds they need to protect these cherished species.” Much of the groundwork for the Namibia project is performed by field units of eight to 12 undergraduate students, predominantly engineering and wildlife majors, who spend a fall semester in Namibia as part of a study-abroad experience. Each field unit works on both a technical objective and a wildlife mission under the direction of trained graduate students.
Locus, based in Morrisville, North Carolina, says it will use the funding to support the filing of its first investigational new drug application with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and a subsequent first-in-human clinical trial. The company is developing a next-generation version of CRISPRCas, a gene-editing technology, for precision antimicrobials that can combat antibiotic-resistant bacteria such as such as Clostridium difficile, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Enterobacteriaceae. “The possibilities with the CRISPR revolution inside biotech are limitless, and not just tied to the human genome,” says Stuart Peterson, president of ARTIS Ventures. Locus is developing CRISPR-based smart-bomb drugs that kill antibiotic-resistant bacteria by selectively destroying their DNA while sparing non-threatening bacteria. It claims to be the only company in the world using CRISPR-Cas3 to kill targeted pathogens.
“Other companies are developing CRISPR applications to modify the human genome, but we are concentrating our efforts on removing deadly pathogens from the body,” says Paul Garofolo, founder and CEO of Locus. “As our technology targets antibioticIn coming years, the teams will assess innovative unmanned aerial resistant infections without risk to human cells, we can rapidly vehicles that fly longer and more quietly and are capable of vertical develop new infectious disease and microbiome therapies that takeoff and landing, as well as autonomous battery-exchange stations that enable aerial vehicle systems to stay in the air longer, avoid the risks posed by broad-spectrum antibiotics and their selection for antibiotic resistance. and sensory suites that discern objects better. They will also test wireless networks that more efficiently stream data into the cloud, Locus was started in 2015 with loans from the North Carolina and they’ll develop auto-patching and path planning algorithms Biotechnology Center. that produce cinematic-quality video images of wild spaces.
NEW PROCESS EASES MARKET ENTRY FOR SIC POWER DEVICES Researchers at NC State are rolling out a new manufacturing process and chip design for silicon carbide power devices that can be used to more efficiently regulate power in technologies that use electronics. The novel process — called PRESiCE — was developed with support from the PowerAmerica manufacturing institute, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and led by NC State. The process will make it easier for companies to enter the SiC marketplace and develop new products. “PRESiCE will allow more companies to get into the SiC market, because they won’t have to initially develop their own design and manufacturing process for power devices — an expensive, time-consuming engineering effort,” says Jay Baliga, Distinguished University Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “The companies can instead use the PRESiCE technology to develop their own products. That’s good for the companies, good for consumers and good for U.S. manufacturing.” Until now, companies that have developed manufacturing processes for creating SiC power devices have kept their processes proprietary, making it difficult for other companies to get into the field. This dearth of information on SiC manufacturing processes has limited participation and has kept the cost of SiC devices high. The NC State researchers developed PRESiCE to address this bottleneck, with the goal of lowering the barrier of entry to the field and increasing innovation. The PRESiCE team worked with a Texas-based foundry called X-Fab to implement the manufacturing process. The team has now qualified the process, showing that it has the high yield and tight statistical distribution of electrical properties for SiC power devices necessary to make them attractive to industry. “If more companies get involved in manufacturing SiC power devices, it will increase the volume of production at the foundry, significantly driving down costs,” Baliga says. Right now, SiC devices cost about five times more than silicon power devices.
TETHIS RAISES $17.6 MILLION FOR GREEN PRODUCT Raleigh-based Tethis, a biomaterials startup founded in 2012 by NC State graduate students, is a step closer to commercializing a product that could revolutionize the diaper market by making it greener and reducing plastic waste that ends up in landfills. The company announced in February that it has raised $17.6 million in Series C funding from investors, including $980,000 from the Wolfpack Investor Network, or WIN, an NC State angel investor organization. The Blue Hill Group was the lead investor in this round. This marks the largest funding round for WIN since it was established in 2016 to connect NC State alumni investors with promising NC State-affiliated startup companies to facilitate angel investments. “This round of funding is an important milestone,” says co-founder and CEO Scott Bolin. “It’s a testament to the hard work our team has put together to validate our technology and prepare it for commercial scale. We’re excited to join with our investors and partners on our mission to provide bio-based solutions to major problems like enabling sustainable diapers for everyone.” Bolin praises NC State’s Office of Technology Commercialization and New Ventures for helping the startup find its footing in the market. “NC State didn’t have to license two young guys, but they were willing to take a chance on us,” he says. n
Jay Baliga displays a new chip design for silicon carbide power devices.
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PUBLIC-PRIVATE PARTNERSHIPS Facing the pressures of a global marketplace where you innovate or die, industry leaders are moving onto NC Stateâ€™s Centennial Campus, creating a unique innovation ecosystem. By David Hunt
As he counts down the days till graduation, NC State senior Kobi Felton gives an upbeat report on his studies, predicting he’ll complete his undergraduate degree in the rigorous chemical engineering program this May without a hitch. That’s not to say it’s been an easy journey.
nonprofit and governmental partners on Centennial Campus, is also one of the 10 partners that operate corporate innovation centers — unique, dedicated facilities that give industry partners unparalleled access to university resources.
One of the toughest parts of his academic career didn’t happen in a classroom or lab in the engineering buildings on NC State’s Centennial Campus in Raleigh. It was the summer he spent in Kingsport, Tennessee, interning with the Eastman Chemical Company.
A MODEL FOR INNOVATION
It’s been two years, but Felton recalls the project like it was yesterday. “I worked on something called molecular dynamics simulations,” he says. Essentially, the project involved running computer simulations to test the properties of thousands of chemicals, identifying the few that might help extend the life of solar-powered batteries. Felton laughs when asked whether the project related to his coursework at the time. “This is stuff you usually learn during Ph.D. work,” he says with a wry smile. “I’d only taken two college chemistry courses. So it was accelerated.” The internship at Eastman was a defining experience for Felton — “an experience I’ll remember for the rest of my life,” he says — giving him the chance to work shoulder to shoulder with industry chemists on some of the trickiest problems in the field. Felton’s advanced work at Eastman helped him score a prestigious Marshall Scholarship last year, which he’ll use to begin work on a master’s degree in chemical engineering and biotechnology at the University of Cambridge in the fall. If Felton’s internship at Eastman seems a cut above the typical college internship, that’s because Eastman’s relationship with NC State is anything but typical. Eastman, one of the university’s 75 corporate,
Building on Innovation Some of the nation’s leading companies operate corporate innovation centers on NC State’s Centennial Campus.
Although no two corporate innovation centers are alike, they share a common goal: to create an innovation ecosystem on campus that benefits the university and its corporate partners, as well as society at large. The centers — enterprise investments by some of the nation’s leading companies — are the linchpins of an innovation strategy becoming increasingly common in corporate America as firms candidly acknowledge that technological innovation is the key to success in the marketplace. “It’s not a one-size-fits-all model,” says Dennis Kekas, who heads NC State’s Office of Partnerships and Economic Development. “Each partnership is developed based on the company’s strategic business interests and the university’s unique strengths.” Some partners, including Eastman, LexisNexis Legal & Professional and Mann+Hummel, have master research agreements with NC State. The agreements help speed research by formalizing all the key terms on the front end, including the ownership and licensing of intellectual property, overhead costs, the care of data and confidential information, compliance issues and the publication of research results. With a master research agreement in hand, all a company has to do to initiate a new research project at NC State is to complete a relatively simple task order. “All the heavy lifting has already been done,” Kekas says. He leads a team of professionals that works hand in glove with NC State’s industry partners to ensure that they seamlessly connect with the vast array of university
“It’s not a one-size-fits-all model. Each partnership is developed based on the company’s strategic business interests and the university’s unique strengths.” Dennis Kekas
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ENERGIZING PUBLIC-PRIVATE PARTNERSHIPS
resources on their doorstep, from faculty experts and top-performing graduate students in more than 100 disciplines to dozens of university centers and institutes that work on complex engineering, scientific and technological challenges. The investment in on-site staff is important to the success of the innovation center model, says Barclay Satterfield, who heads Eastman’s innovation center. “This partnership is my full-time job, and on NC State’s side, there are people who are committed to making it work as their full-time job,” she says. Corporate partners sponsor research projects to add value to their existing products and to spur the creation of new products and technologies. Hanesbrands, a leader in the apparel industry, spun off its FreshIQ technology as a result of collaboration with NC State. Mann+Hummel partners with NC State’s Nonwovens Institute, a global public-private collaboration building next-generation nonwoven fabrics. Energy giant ABB works closely with several of NC State’s advanced research centers to drive innovation in distributed energy, semiconductor technology and additive manufacturing. Corporate innovation centers also collaborate with university faculty to identify new market trends, rethink the customer experience, test new business models and improve organizational performance — in short, to pursue any potential innovation that can give them a market advantage. The centers offer benefits to students that go far beyond most internships by giving them opportunities to develop soft skills in leadership, communication, teamwork and problem solving, as well as practical experience in their fields. For instance, IBM sponsors the Extreme Red project, in which students in multiple disciplines use IBM cloud services to solve problems defined by industry partners. Merck sponsors the NC State Grand Business Challenge, introducing MBA students across the globe to some of the real-world challenges facing the pharmaceutical industry.
Barclay Satterfield (left) and Scott Armentrout, Eastman
Bandwidth and Republic Wireless give NC State students a chance to collaborate with employees to solve actual business challenges, often resulting in full-time employment opportunities for the students.
A COMMON CULTURE Eastman’s corporate innovation center, a small suite of offices on Centennial Campus, is the result of a multifaceted relationship with NC State. Scott Armentrout, Eastman’s director of external innovation, says the organizations share core values and a common culture. “NC State is very collaborative, very open,” he says. “They are very willing to explore areas that aren’t their traditional areas of expertise. When we engage other schools, we don’t always see that.” When Eastman approached NC State about partnering, the company had just launched an effort to transform its business strategy, moving away from a diversified portfolio of commodities to focus on performance-based specialty products. The new strategy hinged on “accelerating growth through innovation,” Armentrout says — quickly designing, testing and deploying new products and technologies to meet customer needs.
explains. “We needed someone to help us along our journey.” That’s why they negotiated a master research agreement with NC State to work on projects to benefit both Eastman and the university. Today, after an investment of more than $13 million in Eastman’s strategic partnership with NC State, Armentrout says the effort has paid off. In business segments such as additives, advanced materials, fibers and chemical intermediates, Eastman has leveraged NC State research and innovation to anticipate market trends, accelerate the development of new products and outpace the competition. “We’ve decreased the number of areas we’re working in and started to focus on where we are going to win,” Armentrout says. “We’ve never done that before.” It’s a classic win-win scenario, he explains. Eastman gets access to expertise in new and emerging fields while students get hands-on experience working on real-world challenges alongside industry professionals.
It was a bold plan, and it involved some risk.
In addition to sponsoring research projects and hiring student interns, Eastman actively recruits NC State graduates — it’s hired nine Ph.D. graduates since 2011 — and invests thousands of dollars a year in graduate student recruitment, undergraduate ambassadors, student organizations, journals and lectures at NC State.
“We didn’t have all the capabilities, all the competencies, all the expertise that we needed to drive that transition,” Armentrout
Michael Dickey, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, has successfully pitched several proposals to Eastman,
“We’ve decreased the number of areas we’re working in and started to focus on where we are going to win.” Scott Armentrout
including ideas for creating eco-friendly plastic bottles, self-cleaning windows and scratch-resistant automotive paint. “I titled that last proposal ‘Watching Paint Dry,’” he says. “It’s great science. We take it for granted, but paint is incredibly complex.” Dickey says Eastman carefully balances the interests of university researchers against the company’s need for practical results. In the end, he thinks striking that balance helps students and faculty stay grounded. “A lot of times you see things that end up in the academic literature and people say, ‘That’s really neat, but it’s not practical,’” he says. One of the strengths of the relationship with Eastman, Dickey says, is the opportunity for students to work on projects that span the range of fundamental and applied science. “The fear among academics generally is that industry-sponsored research is going to have a short-term
focus, that industry is going to be driven entirely by making the next gadget,” he explains. “Eastman gives us problems that are relevant to industry, but they also allow us to answer fundamental questions and follow our scientific curiosity.”
INNOVATION STRATEGY Jeff Pfeifer, vice president of product development at LexisNexis, says academia and industry can both benefit from collaborating to confront and solve the complex technical challenges of the digital age. From his office in the Raleigh Technology Center — the company’s four-story, 120,000square-foot innovation center on Centennial Campus — Pfeifer leads a dynamic, rapidly growing workforce of computer and software programmers, analysts, legal and business experts, sales and marketing professionals and support staff. Five years ago, in what Pfeifer calls a “foundational moment” for LexisNexis, the corporation decided to shift the center of its worldwide innovation activities to NC State’s Centennial Campus. “What we really want is access to world-class talent that is able to solve new problems with advanced technologies,” he explains. “That is uniquely what we have access to here on Centennial Campus.” The company’s innovation center on Centennial is at the heart of the LexisNexis
innovation strategy. With 700 employees, it’s also the largest employer on Centennial Campus. “Our teams in Raleigh are helping to drive development in the legal tech sector globally,” he says. “We’re leveraging machine learning, cognitive computing, natural language processing and other artificial intelligence technologies to create connections between billions of data points and untapped insights through a fantastic visual customer experience.” Legal professionals can leverage those insights to formulate strategies, differentiate services, provide measurable value, win clients and win cases, Pfeifer explains. It’s the kind of innovation that keeps the company at the forefront of the information analytics industry. And it’s driven by a close and collaborative relationship with NC State. LexisNexis sponsors research projects, hires student interns and recruits new employees from the ranks of NC State’s top graduates — the company has hired more than 50 so far. “Our partnership with NC State fuels innovation by connecting us directly to diverse engineering and technology talent to bring ideas to life,” Pfeifer says. As LexisNexis’ relationship with NC State has grown stronger, its involvement with the university has increased. The company has donated $645,000 to the College of
Michael Dickey, second from left, with students in his Centennial Campus lab.
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ENERGIZING PUBLIC-PRIVATE PARTNERSHIPS
Engineering over the past three years, and it supports career development programs, student organizations and student engagement events. One of its most effective events is an annual hackathon that assigns tough problems to interdisciplinary teams of students mentored by LexisNexis staff. Of the 15 to 20 student interns LexisNexis hires each year, most get to know the company through this event. Pfeifer, who helped judge the contest, praised the quality of the students’ work. “We had teams looking at chatbot and voice interaction with datasets, and one team’s chatbot could understand the vagaries of language and syntax and other language-expression issues,” he recalls. “That is very advanced, sophisticated work that some of the world’s leading brands are exploring right now. So I was impressed to see undergraduate students tackling those problems.” As part of a $3 million renovation of its Centennial Campus headquarters, LexisNexis recently dedicated a 1,500-square-foot space — dubbed the Experience Innovation Studio — to support the emerging field of user experience design, or UX. The studio, operated jointly with NC State, is another example of the company’s hands-on approach to engaging faculty and students.
Jeff Pfeifer, LexisNexis
products and services in the food, energy and water industries.
A GROWING RELATIONSHIP Brian Boothe, an NC State alumnus with graduate and undergraduate degrees in mechanical engineering, has worked in the company’s Centennial Campus innovation center for the better part of a decade. Under his leadership, Pentair has expanded its engagement with the university, which originally focused on mechanical engineering and now concentrates more on computer science and electrical and computer engineering.
Ben Watson, a computer science professor at NC State, has been collaborating with Pat FitzGerald, an art and design professor who specializes in interactive learning systems, “Today we’re affiliate members of the to encourage student collaborations in the Nonwovens Institute in the College of new studio. Despite the logistical challenges Textiles, and we’re affiliate members of the of getting students together outside normal Center for Innovation Management Studies class times, the results are encouraging. in the Poole College of Management,” he Five collaborative projects are in the works, says. “We’ve also worked with some of including a project to design and build an the faculty in the psychology department augmented reality alternative to PowerPoint, to help us with a human factors project for the widely used presentation program. an app we developed.” LexisNexis staff regularly bring customers into the space to work with the company’s UX experts, giving them a dedicated space to brainstorm on whiteboards and tables, design prototypes and redesign interfaces to improve the quality of their products. Other campus organizations such as nexUX — a UX networking group — meet weekly in the space. LexisNexis isn’t the only corporate partner at NC State supporting research in UX design. It’s also an area of interest for Pentair, a technology-driven provider of
Computer applications play an increasingly important role in Pentair’s market strategy. Customers who own pool pumps and filters manufactured by Pentair are more likely to remain loyal customers if they can download free smartphone apps to help them monitor and control the equipment. Boothe explains how a well-designed app can become an indispensable tool for his customers. “If you’re planning a pool party for the weekend, you need to know ahead of time when to turn on the heater and filter so the water is comfortable and
clean for your guests,” he says. “An app can tell you that based on the size of your pool, the weather conditions in your area and the type of equipment you have.” If the app is robust enough, it won’t just collect data, Boothe says. “It will identify patterns, identify trends, recognize anomalies and then recommend preventive maintenance programs to optimize your system.” UX is crucial to all of those functions, he says. “We need to help our customers digest the information that we’re collecting for them, because no matter how great that information is, if they can’t figure out what it means, then who cares?” Pentair has consistently maintained a focused engagement with NC State faculty and students. “We’ve sponsored at least one or two projects per semester for every semester since 2008,” he says. The company has also hired student interns, sponsored events and made charitable donations to the NCSU Libraries. “I couldn’t be luckier that I have a company that recognizes the importance of us having a physical presence on campus. It’s really helped us to engage more closely with the university and build our network,” Boothe says. “The relationship has really flourished.” After nearly a decade working with NC State to enhance Pentair’s products and services through customer-focused innovation, Boothe thinks his competitors that aren’t working with universities are missing the boat. “I would encourage our competitors to have more academic engagement,” he says. “I think it’s crazy that they don’t. They’re missing out.” n
EXTRAORDINARY RESEARCH NC STATE RECEIVES DARPA FUNDING TO DEVELOP, TEST GENE DRIVE SYSTEM
LEMURS, PANDAS SHARE COMMON GUT MICROBES
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, is funding work spearheaded by NC State to develop and test a gene-drive system that would reduce populations of invasive mice on islands to help conserve threatened seabird populations.
Although they are separated by millions of years of evolution, bamboo lemurs, giant pandas and red pandas share 48 gut microbes in common — microbes that may be essential to the success of these bamboo-eating species.
The two-year, $3.2 million project seeks to maintain and protect ecosystem biodiversity through the control of invasive rodents. It is one of several funded under DARPA’s Safe Genes program. The award can be renewed for an additional $3.2 million in funding. Gene drive systems work by causing a particular gene or genetic trait to get passed down to a high proportion of offspring from generation to generation. In one approach, says principal investigator John Godwin, an NC State professor of biological sciences, researchers would use genetic techniques to affect sex ratios by preventing the development of most female offspring. A few fertile males would continue to drive the sex-change construct through subsequent generations. The lack of females would quickly cause mouse populations to plummet. “We believe a genetic approach to reduce invasive rodent populations may be necessary, as current approaches, while effective, have their limits,” Godwin says. “A speciesspecific approach could do a tremendous amount of good.”
“The bamboo lemur’s evolutionary tree diverged from that of both panda species 83 million years ago — that’s 18 million years before dinosaurs went extinct,” says Erin McKenney, a postdoctoral researcher in applied ecology and lead author of a paper on the study. “These species are also separated by thousands of miles and the Indian Ocean.” Despite the similar names, red pandas and giant pandas aren’t closely related either, sharing their most recent ancestor more than 47 million years ago. Lemurs are primates, red pandas are related to raccoons, and pandas are related to bears. “Yet all three species share these 48 gut microbes — more than 12 percent of the microbial types found in each species’ gut,” McKenney says. “The only common feature is their diet: all three species live almost exclusively on bamboo.” Of the 48 microbes found in common, some are also found in other animals fond of fiber-rich diets. This suggests that these microbes play a role in breaking down fiber to extract nutrients. “This really underscores the role that diet plays in determining what lives in our guts — and, in turn, how these microbial ecosystems can shape the way animals live,” McKenney says.
“The bamboo lemur’s evolutionary tree diverged from that of both panda species 83 million years ago.” Erin McKenney
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WORDS MATTER WHEN MATH TEACHERS DESCRIBE STUDENT LEARNING Think back to math class in elementary school. Do you remember being assigned to a “high,” “middle” or “low” group? If so, you’ll relate to a new study from NC State on the importance of how teachers talk about students’ mathematical work. “Traditional ways that we hear elementary teachers describe student learning in math are based on age, grade level or ability,” says Paola Sztajn, a math education professor. “Teachers talk in terms of what a second grader can do, what a student in the low math group cannot do, whether something may be too difficult.
A prototype demonstrates the potential of the new technique for printing flexible, stretchable circuits.
METAL PRINTING CUTS COST OF STRETCHABLE ELECTRONICS Flexible electronics hold promise for use in many products, from solar cells and satellites to backpacks and apparel, but there are significant manufacturing costs involved, making them impractical for commercial use. In a bid to make the technology more affordable, researchers at NC State have developed a new technique for directly printing metal circuits, creating flexible, stretchable electronics. The technique can use multiple metals and substrates and is compatible with existing manufacturing systems that employ direct printing technologies. “Our approach should reduce cost and offer an efficient means of producing circuits with high resolution, making them viable for integrating into commercial devices,” says Jingyan Dong, an associate professor in NC State’s Edward P. Fitts Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering. The technique uses existing electrohydrodynamic printing technology, which is already used in many manufacturing processes that use functional inks. But instead of ink, Dong’s team uses molten metal alloys with melting points as low as 60 degrees Celsius. The researchers have demonstrated their technique using three different alloys, printing on four different substrates: glass, paper and two stretchable polymers. The researchers tested the resilience of the circuits on a polymer substrate and found that the circuit’s conductivity was unaffected even after being bent 1,000 times. The circuits were still electrically stable even when stretched to 70 percent of tensile strain. The researchers also found that the circuits are capable of healing themselves if they are broken by being bent or stretched too far.
“The problem with using age, grade level and ability descriptions is that it involves a lot of labels, which can lead to lower expectations and subsequent lower performance for kids,” says Sztajn, the associate dean for research and innovation in the College of Education. “Using fixed traits to describe students’ learning doesn’t give teachers or students much agency or power to change.” In reality, students may excel at some but not all parts of math, she says. Or they may not be good at math now but have the ability to learn. Over a year of professional development sessions, researchers provided 22 teachers at an elementary school in the Southeast with a new framework to describe students’ math work, based on what’s known from recent research on learning trajectories. A learning trajectory factors in students’ prior experiences and opportunities to learn math concepts, and it describes how students progress to more sophisticated mathematics. It helps teachers make careful observations of how students approach problems and describe their mathematical thinking in detail. The goal is to identify what students know and can do as part of figuring out what they need to learn next to move forward. “What we saw was that teachers learned to use the trajectory and positively changed the ways they talked about age and grade level,” Sztajn says. “Learning about students’ mathematical thinking transformed the language teachers used.” However, training on learning trajectories didn’t substantially change teachers’ conversations about students’ ability. “Although teachers could better explain what students were doing, they still spoke of students’ math work in terms of fixed characteristics, such as innate ability,” Sztajn says. “It’s a tough finding that showed how hard it is to change the discussion and how pervasive this language of ability is in our schools right now.”
NANOPROBE HELPS TRACK PROTEIN PATROLLERS
IMPROVING CELL SURVIVAL IN DIABETES TREATMENT
A nanoprobe developed by biophysicists at NC State could allow researchers to trace the movements of different proteins along DNA without the drawbacks of current methods.
Patients with Type 1 diabetes are unable to produce enough insulin naturally. One treatment is pancreatic islet transplantation, in which groups of cells from a donor pancreas are transplanted into the patient — where they can sense glucose levels and produce insulin to control diabetes. Islet transplantation is currently the only noninvasive curative treatment for the disease; however, the main drawback is the high rate of cell death after transplantation.
A host of proteins patrol your DNA helix like cops on a beat. These proteins have individual functions, including identifying damaged areas on the DNA strand and initiating repairs. To study these proteins, researchers commonly attach nanoprobes to them. The probes fluoresce under certain types of light, allowing their movements to be traced. The problem? According to biophysicist Shuang Lim, “We know that DNA is helical in shape — it’s a spiral. When we observe these proteins moving along the strand, we should be able to tell if they’re moving around the DNA as well as along it. Unfortunately, the technology we have now doesn’t really allow us to do that.” The most common probes are quantum dots and gold nanorods. Quantum dots blink, which makes it difficult to determine where they are or what they may be doing at any given time. Gold nanorods, on the other hand, tend to wobble. The wobble also affects the ability of researchers to get an accurate idea of where these proteins are and how they may be interacting with the DNA strand. Lim, along with graduate student Kory Green and former postdoctoral scholar Janina Wirth, developed a nanoprobe that addresses these issues. Their probe — a nanoplasmonic upconverting nanoparticle — changes fluorescent intensity based upon its orientation.
By encapsulating bilirubin, a byproduct of normal hemoglobin breakdown, within tiny nanoparticles, researchers at NC State and Ohio State University have improved the survival rates of pancreatic islet cells in vitro in a low-oxygen environment. “Bilirubin is a molecule found in every cell in our body,” says Chris Adin, an associate professor of soft tissue and oncologic surgery at NC State’s College of Veterinary Medicine, “and while too much of it can be harmful, it can be beneficial if we supplement cells with just the right amount of this molecule.” The work has implications for the treatment of Type 1 diabetes in both canine and human patients.
“These particles are disc shaped. When they’re lying flat, they are bright, and when they’re on edge, they’re dark,” Green says. “They don’t blink and they don’t wobble, so it’s much easier to get accurate measurements from them.”
“These particles are disc shaped. When they’re lying flat, they are bright, and when they’re on edge, they’re dark. They don’t blink and they don’t wobble, so it’s much easier to get accurate measurements from them.” Kory Green
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NC STATE AND ORACLE PILOT BIG DATA PROJECT TO GROW AGRICULTURE Oracle has selected NC State as a university partner to pilot a new program that uses big data to solve grand challenges in everything from agriculture to textiles to engineering. As part of the partnership, which kicked off last fall, Oracle will give the university cloud credits for five faculty and 100 students — more than a $600,000 value — to be distributed over the course of a year through the university’s information technology office. In addition to the credits, Oracle will work with the university — and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences in particular — to launch a big data project that focuses on sweet potatoes. Steve Lommel, associate dean for research and director of the North Carolina Agricultural Research Service, describes the partnership as “synergistic.” “We have been working on the Plant Sciences Initiative for about 18 months and the word is getting out in the media and in the scientific community,” he says. “Oracle saw that we were building this Plant Sciences Initiative where our goal is to do big interdisciplinary science in collaboration with companies, generate large data and then use that data to make decisions to improve agriculture. Their technology could come in and plug and play very easily with what we’re trying to do.” Using big data could accelerate the pace at which crops like the sweet potato are bred, Lommel says.
CRITICAL THINKING INSTRUCTION IN HUMANITIES REDUCES BELIEF IN PSEUDOSCIENCE Teaching critical thinking skills in a humanities course significantly reduces student beliefs in pseudoscience that is unsupported by facts, researchers have found. “Given the national discussion of ‘fake news,’ it’s clear that critical thinking — and classes that teach critical thinking — are more important than ever,” says Anne McLaughlin, an associate professor of psychology at NC State. For the study, McLaughlin and colleague Alicia McGill, an assistant professor of history, worked with 117 students in three different classes. Fifty-nine students were enrolled in a psychology research methods course, which taught statistics and study design, but did not specifically address critical thinking. The other 58 students were enrolled in one of two courses on historical frauds and mysteries — one of which included honors students, many of whom were majors in science, engineering and mathematics disciplines. By the end of the semester, students in the history course for honors students decreased the most in their pseudoscientific beliefs; on average, student beliefs dropped an entire point on the belief scale for topics covered in class, and by 0.5 points on topics not covered in class. There were similar, but less pronounced, changes in the non-honors course. “The change we see in these students is important, because beliefs are notoriously hard to change,” says McLaughlin. “And seeing students apply critical thinking skills to areas not covered in class is particularly significant and heartening.”
“Oracle saw that we were building this Plant Sciences Initiative where our goal is to do big interdisciplinary science in collaboration with companies, generate large data and then use that data to make decisions to improve agriculture.” Steve Lommel
FORESTS IN FLUX Climate change shifted the trees in U.S. forests over the last 30 years, drawing hardwood species westward toward more abundant rainfall and evergreens northward to seek out cooler temperatures, a comprehensive new study shows. Researchers with Purdue, NC State and the U.S. Forest Service analyzed data for 86 tree species over three decades, finding differences in tree distribution because of climate change, with precipitation having a more powerful influence than temperature. Scientists found that evergreen trees such as longleaf pine generally have been moving north in response to rising temperatures. In contrast, most hardwoods like tulip-poplar are shifting westward following changes in rainfall patterns, the team, led by Purdue’s Songlin Fei, finds. Precipitation increased in the central U.S. but dropped in the Southeast, where droughts were more frequent during the study period from 1980 to 2015. “The surprise was in the hardwood trees wanting to move inland,” says Kevin Potter, an NC State research associate professor in forestry and environmental resources. “In the short term, precipitation had a much stronger effect on abundance of forest tree species than temperature.” The study uses long-term data from the U.S. Forest Inventory and Analysis program collected from tens of thousands of plots across the country, beginning in 1980. After Forest Service researcher Chris Oswalt assembled the older data in usable form, the team turned to a method Potter developed that uses hexagonal grids to create comparable samples.
“Precipitation had a much stronger effect on abundance of forest tree species than temperature.” Kevin Potter
Overall, 73 percent of tree species studied made a shift toward the west, while 62 percent moved toward the north. The westward shift took place 1.4 times faster than the northward movement, showing the importance of available moisture for trees.
BACKERS, NOT MONEY, KEY TO MARKET SUCCESS The number of backers a new product attracts during crowdfunding predicts the financial success of the product when it reaches the marketplace — but the amount of money raised during crowdfunding does not, researchers have found. “A lot of people initially see crowdfunding solely as a way to raise money — but, to me, it seemed like a way to learn and create a community that raises awareness of a product,” says Michael Stanko, an associate professor of marketing in NC State’s Poole College of Management. “So, I wanted to know whether my perception was accurate. How important is the dialogue with crowdfunding backers? What aspects of a crowdfunding campaign contribute to a product’s later success in the market?” To address those questions, the researchers started with data on more than 1,000 successful Kickstarter campaigns related to product innovations in four categories: technology, product design,
hardware and video games. The researchers contacted the people behind those campaigns with a survey designed to learn more about their experiences and the market success of their products. Respondents had all run successful campaigns raising at least $10,000. The mean funding raised was $78,726, from an average of 1,078 backers. “The first key finding was that the amount of money a crowdfunding entrepreneur raised was inconsequential to their product’s ultimate success in the market,” Stanko says. “We found that crowdfunders who raised a lot of money were no more likely than those who raised smaller amounts to meet their sales, profit or other financial goals when their products later hit the marketplace.” The second key finding was that the number of people who contribute to a crowdfunding campaign was an important contributor to the later market success of a product.
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80-MILLION-YEAR-OLD DINOSAUR COLLAGEN CONFIRMED Utilizing the most rigorous testing methods to date, researchers at NC State have isolated additional collagen peptides from an 80-million-year-old Brachylophosaurus. The work lends further support to the idea that organic molecules can persist in specimens tens of millions of years longer than originally believed and has implications for researchers’ ability to study the fossil record on the molecular level. Elena Schroeter, NC State postdoctoral researcher, and Mary Schweitzer, professor of biological sciences with a joint appointment at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, wanted to confirm earlier findings of original dinosaur collagen first reported in 2009 from Brachylophosaurus canadensis, a type of hadrosaur, or duck-billed dinosaur, that roamed what is now Montana around 80 million years ago.
“We wanted to not only address questions concerning the original findings, but also demonstrate that it is possible to repeatedly obtain informative peptide sequences from ancient fossils.” Elena Schroeter
A Brachylophosaur canadensis fossil femur in field jacket, showing area of sampling for molecular analyses.
“Mass spectrometry technology and protein databases have improved since the first findings were published, and we wanted to not only address questions concerning the original findings, but also demonstrate that it is possible to repeatedly obtain informative peptide sequences from ancient fossils,” Schroeter says. Collagen is a protein and peptides are the building blocks of proteins. Recovering peptides allows researchers to determine evolutionary relationships between dinosaurs and modern animals, as well as investigate other questions, such as which characteristics of collagen protein allow it to preserve over geological time (or millions of years). “We collected B. canadensis with molecular investigation in mind,” Schweitzer says. “We left a full meter of sediment around the fossil, used no glues or preservatives, and only exposed the bone in a clean, or aseptic, environment. The mass spectrometer that we used was cleared of contaminants prior to running the sample as well.” Using mass spectrometry, the team recovered eight peptide sequences of collagen I, including two that are identical to those recovered in 2009, and six that are new. The sequences show that the collagen I in B. canadensis has similarities with collagen I in both crocodylians and birds, a result scientists would expect for a hadrosaur, based on predictions made from previous skeletal studies. “We are confident that the results we obtained are not contamination and that this collagen is original to the specimen,” Schroeter says. “Not only did we replicate part of the 2009 results, thanks to improved methods and technology we did it with a smaller sample and over a shorter period of time.” n
OUTSTANDING FACULTY BARRANGOU WINS 2ND NAS PRIZE FOR CRISPR-CAS RESEARCH Rodolphe Barrangou, the Todd R. Klaenhammer Distinguished Scholar in Probiotics Research, will receive the 2018 National Academy of Sciences Prize in Food and Agriculture Sciences for his discovery of the genetic mechanisms driving CRISPR-Cas systems. Barrangou’s groundbreaking research established clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats, or CRISPR, as the adaptive immune system of bacteria, a discovery that promoted the practical use of CRISPR-Cas systems for genome editing. The CRISPR work with Cas genes to provide specific resistance and adaptive immunity against viruses. The research has tremendous worldwide applications in food and agriculture, including virus resistance in the widely used yogurt starter culture Streptococcus thermophilus and the potential for translational genome editing in other microbes, crops and livestock. The award includes a medal and a $100,000 prize.
NSF HONORS 10 EARLY-CAREER FACULTY Ten NC State faculty members have received the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious award for early-career researchers. Each year the NSF Faculty Early Career Development Program awards about 450 grants, called CAREER awards, to scientists and engineers who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their organization. Veronica Augustyn, assistant professor of materials science and engineering, was awarded $524,239 for research to improve understanding of the fundamental mechanisms of energy storage and of the design of new layered materials with better energystorage properties. Eric Chi, assistant professor of statistics, was awarded $400,000 to develop a new framework for identifying complicated underlying patterns in multiway arrays. Chi’s proposal includes a training program for students from underrepresented minority groups. Min Chi, assistant professor of computer science, was awarded $547,810 to develop an integrated research and education program that investigates how to improve decision making in interactive learning environments. Ramon Collazo, assistant professor of materials science and engineering, was awarded $500,000 for research leading to applications that use ultraviolet light-emitting diodes to disinfect water and that aid in the detection of pollutants and other effluents. Landon Grace, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, was awarded $500,000 for a project to improve the safety and performance of polymer composites by discovering the fundamental mechanisms governing the evolution of damage in these next-generation materials.
Alexander Kemper, assistant professor of physics, was awarded $500,000 for research and education in theoretical and computational investigations of ultrafast out-of-equilibrium phase transitions. Divine Kumah, assistant professor of physics, was awarded $589,530 for a project using high-intensity X-rays to image the atomic-scale structure of the interfaces of layers of thin crystalline oxide films. Stefano Menegatti, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, was awarded $509,930 to develop a new method for the purification of biologically derived active components that increases selectivity while maintaining the activity of the drug. Rohan Shirwaiker, assistant professor of industrial and systems engineering and associate faculty in the UNC/NC State Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering, was awarded $500,000 for a project using ultrasound principles to aid in bioprinting functional tissues with highly organized fibers as reinforcement. The project includes creation of a biodesign and manufacturing summer workshop for high school students. Kathryn Stolee, assistant professor of computer science, was awarded $500,000 for research that addresses challenges in semantic code search to help programmers more efficiently find and reuse code.
PROFESSORS HONORED FOR LEADERSHIP IN RESEARCH, DIVERSITY Four professors in the College of Veterinary Medicine have been recognized for their outstanding work. The Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges presented the 2017 AAVMC Excellence in Research Award to Edward Breitschwerdt, professor of medicine and infectious disease. Breitschwerdt directs the Intracellular Pathogens Research Laboratory in the Comparative Medicine Institute and is co-director of the Vector Borne Diseases Diagnostic Laboratory. The AAVMC also presented the 2017 Iverson Bell Award to Allen Cannedy, the college’s director of diversity and multicultural affairs. The Bell Award recognizes Cannedy’s efforts to promote opportunities for underrepresented minorities in the field. Cannedy oversees a range of diversity programs and scholarships for the college, where he serves as a lecturer, recruiter and mentor. Duncan X. Lascelles, a professor of small animal surgery and pain management and director of the comparative pain research and education program, received the 2017 American Veterinary Medical Foundation/Winn Feline Foundation Excellence in Feline Research Award. Suzanne Kennedy-Stoskopf, research professor of wildlife and ecosystem health, received the American College of Zoological Medicine’s lifetime achievement award.
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SCIENCE ORGANIZATIONS HONOR PHYSICIST
RAND TO HELSINKI ON FULBRIGHT AWARD
John Thomas, the John S. Risley Distinguished Professor in the Department of Physics, has received two prestigious honors. He was elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and he won the Davisson-Germer Prize in Atomic or Surface Physics from the American Physical Society.
Distinguished Professor of Architecture Patrick Rand will teach and conduct research at Aalto University in Helsinki next spring thanks to a Fulbright Distinguished Chair Award. The highly competitive award recognizes eminent scholars with a significant publication and teaching record.
For both awards, Thomas was recognized for his seminal contributions to the study of unitary Fermi gases. The APS prize comes with a $5,000 award.
Rand will teach a graduate-level seminar, Materials for Design, similar to a course he teaches at NC State.
FELLOWSHIP WILL ADVANCE RESEARCH ON JAPANESE POLITICS, RELIGION Levi McLaughlin, an assistant professor of religious studies, has received a Luce/ACLS Fellowship in Religion, Journalism and International Affairs for the 2018-19 academic year. The fellowship supports McLaughlin’s book project, Religious Influences on Japanese Politics and Policymaking. Luce/ACLS fellowships are administered by the American Council of Learned Societies and are made possible by a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation.
NATIONAL ACADEMY OF INVENTORS NAMES PROFESSORS AS FELLOWS Computer science professor Donald Bitzer and physics professor William Ditto have been named fellows of the National Academy of Inventors. Fellows are recognized for outstanding contributions in areas such as patents and licensing, innovative discovery and technology, significant impact on society, and support and enhancement of innovation. Bitzer co-invented the flat plasma display panel in 1964. The technology was eventually applied to television screens, and millions of plasma TVs have been sold to the public since they were introduced in the 1990s. His work on the plasma display monitor earned him an Emmy Award in 2002. Ditto, an expert in nonlinear dynamics, artificial intelligence and chaotic systems, leads NC State’s Nonlinear Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. He is recognized internationally for the development of a new type of computer based on nonlinear dynamics and chaos. His findings have been used to study new ways of controlling heart arrhythmias, seizures and epilepsy.
PHYSICIST SHOOTS FOR STARS WITH DOE AWARD Physics professor Richard Longland received an Early Career Research award from the U.S. Department of Energy. The award will support his project to investigate indirect methods to determine the hard-to-measure nuclear reactions occurring in stars. This involves developing a new dedicated facility, the Facility for Experiments of Nuclear Reactions in Stars, a charged-particle spectrograph at the Triangle Universities Nuclear Laboratory in Durham.
LIGLER JOINS INVENTORS HALL OF FAME Frances Ligler, Lampe Distinguished Professor in the UNC/NC State Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering, has been inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. Ligler is being recognized for her innovative application of emerging technologies in a variety of fields to make optical biosensors smaller, more versatile and more sophisticated. Thanks to her work conducted at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, biosensors have moved out of the lab and into use for food safety, disease diagnosis, pollution control and homeland security.
PROFESSOR RECEIVES EDUCATION ASSOCIATION’S HIGHEST HONOR Jere Confrey, the Joseph D. Moore Distinguished University Professor of Mathematics Education, is the first NC State faculty member to be named a fellow of the American Educational Research Association. The honor — the organization’s highest — recognizes exceptional research contributions to education. Confrey’s current research focus includes designing learning maps and diagnostic assessments focused on student thinking in mathematics for middle schools.
ANIMAL SCIENCE PROFESSOR RECOGNIZED FOR EQUINE RESEARCH Animal science professor Paul Siciliano received two honors: the North American Colleges and Teachers of Agriculture Educator Award and the American Society of Animal Science Equine Science Award. The NACTA award recognizes people whose work represents the best in agricultural higher education. The ASAS Equine Science Award recognizes outstanding achievement in the areas of extension, research, teaching or agribusiness in the equine industry. Siciliano focuses on micronutrient requirements of horses. His current research concerns grazing methods, including trying to quantify nutrients when horses are in a pasture. n
MIXED MEDIA DEREK HAM VR Project —I Am a Man
I Am a Man is an interactive virtual reality experience that incorporates historic events of the African-American civil rights movement. The experience immerses the user in a series of scenes, such as the 1968 Memphis sanitation workers’ strike and the events leading to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., through the Oculus Rift VR headset. I Am a Man was created by Derek Ham, assistant professor of graphic design. Ham won funding for the project through the Oculus LaunchPad program. The experience of creating I Am a Man has led him to envision VR playing a more prominent role in education. “I would love to see NC State at large take on broader [VR] projects,” Ham says. “I think that’s the future.” n
DEREK HAM, I AM A MAN
BOOKS BY NC STATE RESEARCHERS House and Home: Cultural Contexts, Ontological Roles
Never Out of Season: How Having the Food We Want When We Want It Threatens Our Food Supply and Our Future Rob Dunn
Published by Routledge, 2017
Published by Little, Brown and Company, 2017
Lincoln and Congress
Celestial Empire: The Emergence of Chinese Science Fiction Nathaniel Isaacson
The Living Supply Chain: The Evolving Imperative of Operating in Real Time Robert Handfield
(Business Management) Published by Wiley, 2017
3D Team Leadership: A New Approach for Complex Teams Bradley L. Kirkman
William C. Harris
(Foreign Languages and Literatures)
(Management, Innovation and Entrepreneurship)
Published by Southern Illinois University Press, 2017
Published by Wesleyan University Press, 2017
Published by Stanford University Press, 2017
Endocrine Disruptors, Brain, and Behavior
Suasive Iterations: Rhetoric, Writing, and Physical Computing
Heather B. Patisaul
Published by Oxford University Press, 2017
Lions and Lambs: Conflict in Weimar and the Creation of Post-Nazi Germany Noah Benezra Strote
Dr. Eleanor’s Book of Common Ants of California Eleanor Spicer Rice
David M. Rieder
Published by Parlor Press, 2017
Published by University of Chicago Press, 2017
Leading Personalized and Digital Learning: A Framework for Implementing School Change Mary Ann Wolf
Published by Yale University Press, 2017
Published by Harvard Education Press, 2017
Applying the Flipped Classroom Model to English Language Arts Education Carl A. Young
Published by IGI Global, 2017
Research. Innovation. Impact | 39
NC State University Campus Box 7018 Raleigh, NC 27695-7018
SAVING PRINCEVILLE Residents of Princeville, North Carolina, welcomed experts from NC State and other public agencies last fall to help map their future as they struggled to recover from the devastation wrought by Hurricane Matthew in 2016.
The historic town, founded by freed African-Americans in the closing days of the Civil War, has weathered many storms in the past 150 years, including an economic battering exacerbated by younger residents moving to the state’s urban centers for better job opportunities. “The demographics are very challenging,” says Andrew Fox, a landscape architecture professor at NC State. “We need to look at recovery as a long-term effort. It isn’t going to happen in a year or two.” The Princeville workshop brought together NC State students and professors from the departments of Architecture, Landscape Architecture, and Agricultural and Resource
Economics, and from North Carolina Sea Grant. They were joined by researchers from Louisiana State University, East Carolina University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, as well as representatives of the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Park Service, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Also represented were a host of state agencies, including Emergency Management, Cultural and Natural Resources, Public Safety and the governor’s office. “It was exhilarating,” Fox says. “Designers love to roll up their sleeves and just get to work. So it was great having the resources
in the room to answer questions about technical issues like environmental policy and land-use regulations.” The workshop focused on three broad issues: relocating some residents, businesses and town services to a 52-acre parcel of land outside the floodplain; repurposing low-lying land near the river for cultural, historical and recreational uses; and rebuilding some structures in the floodplain to make them more resistant to flooding. n
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